Society can cry itself hoarse about beauty being skin-deep, but the scars go much deeper. Whether it relates to Murphy’s Laws or the well-known English poet Sir Thomas Overbury, who is said to have coined the beauty maxim, semantics and origins hardly make a difference to groups sidelined for no fault of theirs. And, the differently abled are no exception.
According to T M N Deepak, Vice-President of the Tamil Nadu Differently Abled Federation, the handicap lies in the perception of the differently abled as disabled.
The greatest challenge people with disabilities today face is the general ignorance regarding their plight and the role played by genetics. As a result, they are branded and robbed of their most basic right – dignity. Adding to their fear of the unknown is the misinformation spread about disability being a manifestation of aspects heavenly or earthly. Stories and folklore abound: bad karma (negative debts in a cause and effect cycle), the effect of Shani (the specific energy attributed to a planet in the natal or birth chart of a person; in this case, Saturn), the mistakes of a past life, and so on.
Psychologically, most people tend to relate disability to being sick or to being a victim. “In my line of work, I often travel to remote districts and small villages. Too often have I heard how tragic it is that ‘these things’ happen to ‘good people like me’,” says Deepak. This mindset, according to him, needs to change; and the media plays a large role in how society feels about special needs. Having special needs is still made out to be a great tragedy, instead of looking at the many success stories aching to be told, he adds.
Take Thomas Edison, for instance, the American inventor and businessman known best for having invented the light bulb. A less-known fact, however, is that Edison was hard of hearing. Another great example is Franklin D Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States and an iconic leader. In the early 1920s, he contracted polio and lost the use of his legs. Being in a wheelchair did not hinder Roosevelt’s progressive thinking. In fact, his victory against the disease energised him and helped him lead the country out of the depths of the Great Depression (1929). Yet, says Deepak, these are not the stories associated with special needs. Portrayed in their stead are images of despair and lost hope.
He feels that for all that we have studied, tried and tested in science, we still miss the fact that special needs might also be a natural link in the long chain of events that evolution is. To be a part and parcel of nature is to be a part of the vivid spectrum of differences and unique traits. “Instead of trying to observe and make the best of each challenge, we get so caught up in our inane idea of beauty and perfection. This shows how primitive we still are,” says Deepak emotionally.
“We should accept disability as part of the natural diversity,” he adds. As someone living with a disability, Deepak has never indulged in futile self-pity. Instead, he has chosen to advocate a better way of living for others like himself. He says, “I have a son with special needs. If life is going to be difficult for him, it is only because of how the world will keep telling him about how his disability is unfair on him. I know he or anyone with a will to succeed will let nothing stand in the way. We are all beautiful and unique in our imperfections and must learn to make the best of the tools we are born with.”
“As a society, we need to wake up to the reality of special needs. Enough of paying lip service. We need to promote the idea that differently abled children stand to achieve just as much as any other children. Yes, they do need assistance and a lot of support, but they definitely do not need pity. Superstitions have to be shunned and everyone needs to take note of the fact that even though we are living with disabilities, we are far from disabled,” Deepak advocates.
Quite true! Acceptance is what matters ultimately. Rather than viewing those with special needs as ‘different’, let us embrace them as our own and give them a sense of identity.
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